At Woofers Grooming & Goodies we have a coffee cup on the front counter where we keep a handful of ball point pens. There is saying printed on the cup that says something like “Dogs are children in little fur coats”. We get a lot of comments about the cup from our customers. Comments range from those who agree, saying, “oh yeah, isn’t that the truth?” to those who think it’s improper or somehow unethical to anthropomorphize dogs to this degree.
I can actually see both perspectives and you probably can too. On the one hand we love our dogs so much that they become a part of our family. They are in our care or “guardianship” and it’s not too far-fetched to think of them as our furry little kids. At the same time I think most of us recognize that dogs have their own set of needs and desires that make them very much unlike furry little children.
I would venture to say that most of us try to strike a balance between these two perspectives, loving our animals just as we love others in our family, but at the same time recognizing that our “furry little children” have needs that are very specific to their species. A trip to a theme park like Wild Waves or Disney Land might be the epitome of fun for a human kid, but would only serve to over-stimulate and stress most dogs. A dog would be ecstatic to receive a nice meaty chew-bone, but your 11 year old son would probably rather have some screen time on the video games.
The differences are pretty easy to spot when you look for them and I think it’s important to look once in a while to be sure we really do see the differences and that we provide our dogs with food, treats, exercise, play and work that is appropriate to their breed and species.
While I was mulling all this stuff over in my big human-brain another thought occurred to me. As parents to human children we have a huge responsibility to the people we have brought into this world. We feed them, clothe them, provide safe shelter and education and all the other stuff we do as parents. Much of this is stuff we also do for our dogs, but there is one HUGE difference.
When we care for our kids we have a completely different set of goals in mind. We are preparing our children for adulthood. Everything we do for them is getting them ready to take care of themselves. This is not the case with dogs. Our “furry little children” are never going to grow up and move away. We are going to be responsible for them and they are going to depend on us for the rest of their lives!
I’m certain this is one of the things that attract us to dogs, the fact that they need us for their entire lives. They are always our dependents. They never grow up and move away. They will need us or (somebody like us) for their whole lives. Do you think your dog might fill a void in your big mushy human heart? A big empty spot that developed when the kids moved away? Or maybe your kids just got to the age where they could tie their own shoes and feed themselves? Does it make you feel more human to have a little friend that needs you and depends on you for absolutely everything?
When you start to look at this side of dog guardianship, it almost gets kinda scary, huh? Whether we think about it often or not, we have voluntarily taken on an enormous responsibility with our dogs. They need us. Forever.